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What Employers Need to Know About the New COVID-19 Variants

Mandira Venkat Feb 26, 2021 12:00:00 AM
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What should employers know about the new variants of COVID-19? How can management teams prepare for new strains?

News and Updates on the COVID-19 Variants

  • There are 6 highly transmissible variants: B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B1.351 or 501Y.V2 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), B.1.427(California), B.1.429 (Epsilon), and B.1.617 (Delta)
  • There is concern the COVID-19 variant mutations will have slightly weakened protection from the vaccines
  • We are not sure how effective certain viral tests are at identifying the variants

What businesses should know about the arrival of the new variants 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website provides information and updates related to the COVID-19 variants. 

What is a variant?

Viruses are constantly mutating and, over time, they can become variants. Some emerging variants disappear and others persist. 

What do we know about the new variants? 

Currently five variants of the virus have been identified in the U.S. which spread more easily and faster than previous variants. India has a new variant which poses a global concern but has not been noted as present in the U.S. 

Alpha Variant: What you need to know 

One of the first variants to arrive in the US was the Alpha variant identified last fall in the UK. This variant is also referred to as B.1.1.7. 

Studies report that this variant is more fatal than others. The variant was first detected in a US case last December. 

Beta Variant: What you need to know

The Beta variant is known as B1.351 or 501Y.V2 and was first identified last October in South Africa. This variant was first detected in a US case in late January. 

Gamma Variant: What you need to know

The Gamma variant, also known as P.1, was identified in Brazilian travelers at an airport in Japan in January. Additional mutations in this variant may impact it being identifiable by antibodies. The mutations present a danger of reinfection and potential diminished vaccine efficacy if the variant is able to evade our immune system. This variant was first detected in a US case in late January. 

Epsilon Variants: What you need to know  

There are two Epsilon variants, they are also referred to as B.1.427 and B.1.429, they were first identified in February 2021. They were classified as VOCs, variants of concern, in March 2021

Delta Variant: What you need to know

The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617, was designated as a global “variant of concern” in May 2021 and has reached the U.S. According to the WHO, preliminary studies show this variant, like the others listed above, spreads more easily than other strains of the new coronavirus. The variant was found in India. 

What we don’t know about the variants

Will the new variants impact the efficacy of the vaccine? 

According to nature, scientists are still debating whether the new variants will impact the effectiveness of the current COVID-19 vaccines. There are vaccine developers that plan to update their shots to target the variants. 

According to CNBC, the FDA may eliminate the lengthy clinical trial requirement for COVID-19 vaccines modified to work against the variants. Pfizer and Moderna are already working on modifying their vaccines given the variants and the current mutation rate. HR managers should monitor the variants that enter their workplace. They should have a system to track of who has been vaccinated with the current vaccine and who receives the variant modified vaccines or boosters.

Do the new variants impact the accuracy of COVID-19 tests?

The FDA has noted that the new COVID-19 variants may cause molecular tests to generate false negatives. Further studies are needed to identify the impact each new variant may have on the accuracy of COVID-19 tests. 

Proactive health safety measures can help you prevent outbreaks 

33 states have specific workplace safety measures

At least 33 states in the US have made screening employees for COVID-19 prior to arriving to work a requirement. 

Health screening for work should be a requirement, if not already 

Health screenings for work should be a requirement to ensure employee safety. Businesses will need to implement multiple health safety measures to manage the new variants and increased COVID-19 cases. Even organizations without state, local, or public health screening guidelines should make screening employees a requirement to prevent outbreaks, 

Logging close contacts in the workplace is essential before employees report positive for a rapid response

California’s OSHA requires employers send exposure notifications to employees, contractors, and other employers within 24 hours. These notifications are to inform them that they were exposed to someone infected COVID-19. All business owners should send notifications to potentially exposed employees as soon as possible to prevent outbreaks. 

Employers should have access to a platform where they can easily see which employees were exposed to the virus. Additionally, employees should be able to easily report their close contacts to create a safe and healthy workplace.

Encouraging and tracking vaccine adoption can help you achieve herd immunity

The COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. safeguard us against most variants spreading in the U.S. The current vaccines will have the benefit of strengthening your immune system overall and potentially lessen the impact of a COVID-19 variant infection. As Dr. Fauci notes, the vaccines provide protection from the virus and prevent the emergence of new variants. Widespread vaccination is crucial to prevent new strains and mutations. The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine is crucial to fight the variants, a new study found that, after two weeks of the second dose, the vaccine was 88% effective against the Delta variant and and 93% effective against the Alpha variant. 

Time to review your safety protocols and ensure they will meet this new challenge 

Employers should feel confident that their pandemic safety program can handle emerging variants. Companies that do not prepare may face losses in productivity.

If your current process is manual, when variants spread and new cases arise, you will need to hire more employees to manage your workload. Are you currently using paper-based screening surveys and manual contact tracers? Automating these processes can be more cost-effective and enables management to take action in real time to prevent outbreaks. 

If your current solution is digital, does it meet all your needs? Employers should evaluate their current solution to ensure it meets all their pandemic safety requirements. Does your screening solution encourage and track compliance? Are administrators easily able to track close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases? 

Employers, especially those for larger organizations should consider risk mitigation strategies. A broad based testing program allows organizations to identify asymptomatic cases and infection hotspots. Finally, employers should have a system in place to keep track of employee vaccination status and workplace immunity levels. 

Our platform integrates screening, testing, contact tracing, case management, and vaccine management information to help businesses stay ahead of outbreaks. 

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